Flying Lessons with Loren Christie

Whether you’re flying home for the holidays or heading south to escape the cold, ensure that your travels are effortless by taking tips from Loren Christie, frequent flyer and travel expert for CTV’s Canada AM. City Life put his savvy to the test by asking for his advice on readers’ most trying travel questions. So before you book your ticket out of here, take note of these tried-and-true tips

Q: If the airline makes a mistake — for example, if they overbook and I’m bumped from the flight, or if I’m not given the meal I paid for — am I entitled to some sort of reimbursement?
A: For the most part, Canada’s air transportation is deregulated and relies primarily on market forces to establish appropriate levels of compensation, so you generally will not profit from an airline’s mistakes. The best-case scenario is an overbooking issue on the airline’s part that results in a refund, a return home and a $200 credit. But that’s the most you’ll ever get. Normally you’ll just get transported on a later flight. Each airline — especially when compared with international airlines — is slightly different. It’s also important to know that lower fares and standby tickets have fewer rights and more chances of being bumped.
Q: What if your flight is overbooked and you volunteer to take the next one?
A: How much an airline is willing to offer volunteers is a complete gamble. And you’ll never know — they have every right to bump a passenger in an overbooking scenario to a later flight, as long as they get them there in the same fare class. The most they will owe is $200. So if they’re offering volunteers a voucher and it seems good to you,
take it!

Q: My luggage is lost — what now?
A: If your luggage is truly lost, you are due compensation. The amount you are entitled to depends on whether your flight was domestic or international. The maximum amount you could expect to be reimbursed is $1,500 regardless of what’s in your bags. Airlines lay out the compensation details (conditions of carriage) in their tariffs, which you can usually find on their websites.
The tariffs of each airline also outline what you are entitled to receive in the case of delayed luggage.

Q: How can I avoid lost luggage?
A: When booking your trip, try a direct flight. If that’s not possible, make sure you have ample time between flights for your bags to be transferred. Also try to book your flights with the same airline so that if a bag is lost, you’re dealing with one airline versus two (who could try and push the blame on each other). Label your baggage with your name and contact information, including your cellphone number. For security reasons, use your work address instead of your home address and put labels both inside and outside of your luggage in case the tags get ripped off.

Q: If I’m told I have to remove items from my bags, can I prevent them from being disposed of?
A: Your only option is to go back through security and check it in at the airline desk, but if it means extra luggage you could get charged, so be careful! I once brought my kilt and all its accessories on-board for a weekend wedding, forgetting about the sgian-dubh (a.k.a. “the little dagger”). I ended up paying the newsstand guy in the airport $20 to hold onto it for me for the weekend. I wouldn’t recommend this as a standard practice.

Q: How can I avoid lineups at the airport?
A: Check in online for less rushing around at the airport and to ensure that you get the seat you want. With Air Canada lately, it seems that if you don’t check in online, you end up in the middle seat. You can also avoid lines by bringing only a carry-on, and by preparing for your security screening to ensure your checks run smoothly.

Q: Whom would you recommend to invest in the Nexus card?
A: The Nexus card allows travellers to avoid customs lines, but only get the Nexus card if it makes sense. I recommend it for business travellers who frequently fly to the United States.

Q: Any tips for a stress-free security screening?
A: Make sure you’re properly prepared. Wear shoes that easily slip off and on. Any liquids you pack shouldn’t exceed 100 ml, and all liquids must be stored in a 1-litre bag. Finally, don’t pack any sharp objects that will literally “not fly.” How is it that I still see people going through security with water bottles and jackknives? 

Q: What are my rights when it comes to physical contact during security checks?
A: You can request a person of your gender to do any body searches. 

Q: If I’m stuck at the airport waiting, how do you recommend passing
the time?
A: Scope out airports with good shopping and plan your time to sample some local food. I’d also advise downloading the GateGuru app on your tablet or phone, which lists all the businesses near your gate, along with user reviews, pictures and maps in airports all over the world.

Q: Do I get reimbursed if a flight is delayed due to mechanical issues?
A: Domestic and international carriers operating to, from or within Canada do not compensate passengers due to delays arising from mechanical issues, except to protect the passenger on a later flight or allow a refund of the full amount, if the delay has occurred at the point of origin. Any further “niceties” are at the airline’s discretion and there are no standards established. 

Q: If the flight is delayed and you’ve already boarded the plane, is the airline supposed to let you off after three hours?
A: The three-hour rule was established in the United States — there is no such rule in Canada. However, four carriers in Canada (Air Canada, WestJet, Air Canada Jazz and Air Transat) have voluntarily adopted provisions of Flight Rights Canada (FRC). FRC does address tarmac delays providing for a return of the aircraft to the terminal after a delay of 90 minutes. Air Canada, for example, has amended its tariff to state the following:
“If passengers are already on the aircraft when the delay occurs, Air Canada will offer drinks and other snacks if it is safe, practical and timely to do so. If the delay exceeds 90 minutes and circumstances permit, Air Canada will offer passengers the option of disembarking from the aircraft until it is time to depart.”

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